The carbon and nitrogen budget of Desmophyllum dianthus—a voracious cold-water coral thriving in an acidified Patagonian fjord

In the North Patagonian fjord region, the cold-water coral (CWC) Desmophyllum dianthus occurs in high densities, in spite of low pH and aragonite saturation. If and how these conditions affect the energy demand of the corals is so far unknown. In a laboratory experiment, we investigated the carbon and nitrogen (C, N) budget of D. dianthus from Comau Fjord under three feeding scenarios: (1) live fjord zooplankton (100–2,300 µm), (2) live fjord zooplankton plus krill (>7 mm), and (3) four-day food deprivation. In closed incubations, C and N budgets were derived from the difference between C and N uptake during feeding and subsequent C and N loss through respiration, ammonium excretion, release of particulate organic carbon and nitrogen (POC, PON). Additional feeding with krill significantly increased coral respiration (35%), excretion (131%), and POC release (67%) compared to feeding on zooplankton only. Nevertheless, the higher C and N losses were overcompensated by the threefold higher C and N uptake, indicating a high assimilation and growth efficiency for the krill plus zooplankton diet. In contrast, short food deprivation caused a substantial reduction in respiration (59%), excretion (54%), release of POC (73%) and PON (87%) compared to feeding on zooplankton, suggesting a high potential to acclimatize to food scarcity (e.g., in winter). Notwithstanding, unfed corals ‘lost’ 2% of their tissue-C and 1.2% of their tissue-N per day in terms of metabolism and released particulate organic matter (likely mucus). To balance the C (N) losses, each D. dianthus polyp has to consume around 700 (400) zooplankters per day. The capture of a single, large krill individual, however, provides enough C and N to compensate daily C and N losses and grow tissue reserves, suggesting that krill plays an important nutritional role for the fjord corals. Efficient krill and zooplankton capture, as well as dietary and metabolic flexibility, may enable D. dianthus to thrive under adverse environmental conditions in its fjord habitat; however, it is not known how combined anthropogenic warming, acidification and eutrophication jeopardize the energy balance of this important habitat-building species.

Maier S. R., Jantzen C., Laudien J., Häussermann V., Försterra G., Cornils A., Niggemann J., Dittmar T. & Richter C., 2021. The carbon and nitrogen budget of Desmophyllum dianthus—a voracious cold-water coral thriving in an acidified Patagonian fjord. PeerJ 9: e12609. doi: 10.7717/peerj.12609. Article.

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